5 Effective Tips for Picky Eaters During the Holidays

holiday meal for picky eaters

Although 2021 may be a bit different for our family gatherings, the holiday season typically brings heaps of delicious comfort foods and family members to the table! For most, this is a source of excitement! For a picky eater and their parents, however, this can be something that causes great anxiety.

The thought of having to warm up a separate meal, bring a special plate for your little one, or face judgment from family members can be uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be though! Below are five tips to help navigate holiday meals with your picky or problem eater.

Make a Practice Meal

Help your little one become familiar with the appearance, smell, and presence of your family’s typical holiday foods on their plate. Start introducing these foods weeks before a holiday (or even more!) so that your child has enough exposure as to not become upset if they’re presented.

Pretend like you’re sampling each food, to make the experience as manageable as possible! Use a sample size spoon or toothpicks and little cups or bowls with tiny portions of each food (e.g. a teaspoon of mashed potatoes, 1 green bean, 1 cranberry, 1 cube of stuffing). Make your food together at home, or get these foods from your grocery store hotbar if they’re available!

Pick One Goal Food

Make it a goal to add one holiday food to your child’s accepted food list (if they’re not already accepting one your family usually eats!). Try to expose your child to this food at least 10-20 times before the holiday.

Start with food play, such as building a tower, painting with foods, or making a pattern with the food. Try not to pressure your child to eat this food, but just have it available on the table or plate. You might be sick of this particular food by the holidays, but seeing your picky eater try new food with the family might be worth it!

Bring One of Your Child’s Preferred Foods for the Family

Even if your child’s favorite food is a peanut butter sandwich, make it look festive and bring enough for the whole family, so you know there’s at least one food your child will eat. Cut out the sandwich using a tree cookie cutter! If your child’s only preferred meal is chicken nuggets, put them on a festive plate and add a cranberry dipping sauce! 

Make a Craft

Use online pictures of your family’s typical holiday food to make a picture collage or a picture of a plate with what your child can expect to see at the family dinner. Sort the foods by color or make a realistic-looking plate of food.

Talk with your child to set a realistic goal for what your child’s plate will look like on the day of the holiday. That can be anything from scooping one new food onto mom’s plate, putting 3 small scoops of non-preferred foods on their own plate, or picking foods by color. Set your expectation low, and you might be surprised at what your child will do!

Face Family Commentary

Family members can be tough on each other! Prepare yourself for comments about your picky eater, but try not to let them bother you. Know that you’re doing your best to help your child, and that the road to a healthy relationship with food can be a painfully long one for picky and problem eaters! It’s hard for others to understand that journey if their children are typically developing eaters. 

Even a small step during the holidays can be a huge victory for families that struggle at mealtimes. Every child that deals with picky eating is different. You can learn more about when to seek help for your picky eater on our feeding page. If you’re interested in learning more about feeding therapy services and how The Clubhouse can help your family, please contact us!

Written by Megan Daly, MA, CCC-SLP

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